On Entitlements III

Human sacrifice to the gods for the promise of blessings differs only in degree to the sacrifice of liberties for the promise of entitlements. Both require unjustified acts of coercion by the sacred authorities against your peaceful neighbors. Both disregard the preferences of those whose lives or liberties are to be sacrificed for your security. Both require manipulation or coercive indoctrination from an early age to make the sacrifice acceptable (superficially, at least) to most people so that the practice persists over generations. Both look at your fellow human beings as expendable cattle to be milked or butchered for the supposed benefit of everyone. For these reasons, and probably more, both are evil and wrong. And that’s today’s two cents.

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The Constitution is Not Your Security Blanket (6m) – Episode 004

Episode 004: Jared shares a quick rant about gun owners who deify the Second Amendment to the US Constitution.

Listen to Episode 004 (6m, mp3, 64kbps)

Subscribe via RSS here, or in any podcast app by searching for “voluntary contrarian”. Support the podcast at Patreon.com/evc or PayPal.me/everythingvoluntary.

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A Short Hop from Bleeding Heart to Mailed Fist

When Hugo Chavez began ruling Venezuela, he sounded like a classic bleeding-heart – full of pity for the poor and downtrodden.  Plenty of people took him at his words – not just Venezuelans, but much of the international bleeding-heart community.  By the time Chavez died, however, many admirers were already having second thoughts about his dictatorial tendencies.  Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s handpicked successor, amply confirmed these fears.  Almost everyone now plainly sees the mailed fist of the brutal dictator Chavez II.

Which brings us to two facts about the political world.  Let’s call them Strange and Meta-Strange.

The Strange Fact: This transition from bleeding heart to mailed fist is common.  Almost every Communist dictatorship launches with mountains of humanitarian propaganda.  Yet ultimately, almost everyone who doesn’t fear for his life wakes up and smells the tyranny.

The Meta-Strange Fact: People rarely describe the Strange Fact as “strange”!

What’s so strange about the Strange Fact?  Most obviously, the extreme hypocrisy.  Governments that vocally proclaim their compassion for the meek – most obviously the Soviet Union and Maoist China – commit a grossly disproportionate share of mass murder and other violations of human rights.

What’s so strange about the Meta-Strange Fact?  Well, picture the most vocally compassionate person you personally know, the person who seems most obsessed with the interests and feelings of others.  Wouldn’t you be shocked to discover that they burn babies with cigarettes when you’re not looking?  It’s one thing for people to fall short of saintly ideals; it’s quite another for people who uphold saintly ideals to be downright wicked.

What’s going on?  Here are some possibilities:

1. Politics is a brutal game.  When bleeding hearts take over a government, brutal outsiders smell their weakness, force their way in, bully their way to the top, and unleash hell.

The obvious problem with this story, of course, is that the bleeding hearts and mailed fists are usually the same people, though sometimes at different stages in their political career.

2. In this wicked world, the best way to pursue bleeding-heart policies is with a mailed fist.  Sure, it would be nice if we could harmoniously adopt bleeding-heart policies.  But in the real world, the forces of reaction and selfishness will try to obstruct and reverse bleeding-heart policies with every step.  Unless, of course, you terrorize them into submission.

The obvious problem with this story, of course, is that countries that pursue bleeding-heart policies with a mailed fist look like total disasters.  Most of them face horrifying civil wars; and even when the dust settles, the common man’s quality of life remains very low.

3. Hostile foreigners force bleeding hearts to adopt the mailed fist.  When countries pursue bleeding-heart policies, evil countries like the United States try to isolate, punish, and overthrow them.  The best way to protect your noble bleeding-heart experiment, sadly, is to prioritize the military and internal security.  Then the international community has the effrontery to call these unwelcome defensive measures “the mailed fist.”

The obvious problem with this story: One of the quickest ways to anger countries like the United States is to blatantly use the mailed fist (especially if you combine your mailed fist with anti-Western rhetoric).  Furthermore, if extreme bleeding-heart policies really were prone to provoke powerful foreigners, a sincere bleeding heart would moderate enough to appease these foreigners.  “You don’t like my total war against illiteracy and disease?  Fine, I’ll just do a half-war against illiteracy and disease.”

4. The bleeding-heart rhetoric is mostly propaganda; the main goal is the mailed fist.  Even the most abusive romances usually start with a honeymoon period.  Similarly, dictators rarely gain total power by growling, “Give me total power.”  Instead, they woo the people with flowery words and symbolic gifts.  Part of the goal, of course, is to trick your victims until you get the upper hand.  But the flowery words and symbolic gifts are also effective ways to inspire gratitude in both recipients and bystanders.

This story often seems right to me, but it does implausibly downplay the bleeding hearts’ ideological fervor.

5. Bleeding-heart rhetoric is disguised hate speech.  When activists blame the bourgeoisie for causing hunger, disease, and illiteracy, perhaps their main concern isn’t actually alleviating hunger, disease, or illiteracy.  While they’d like these problems to disappear, the bleeding hearts’ top priority could be making the bourgeoisie suffer.  The mailed fist systematizes that suffering.

It’s tempting to dismiss this story as cartoonish, but it’s more plausible than you think.  Human beings often resent first – and rationalize said resentment later.  They’re also loathe to admit this ugly fact.  Actions, however, speak louder than words.  People like Chavez and Maduro can accept their failure to help the poor, but not their failure to crush their hated enemies.

6. Bleeding-heart policies work so poorly that only the mailed fist can sustain them.  In this story, the bleeding hearts are at least initially sincere.  If their policies worked well enough to inspire broad support, the bleeding hearts would play nice.  Unfortunately, bleeding-heart policies are exorbitantly expensive and often directly counter-productive.  Pursued aggressively, they predictably lead to disaster.  At this point, a saintly bleeding heart will admit error and back off.  A pragmatic bleeding heart will compromise.  The rest, however, respond to their own failures with rage and scapegoating.  Once you institutionalize that rage and scapegoating, the mailed fist has arrived.

This story also seems pretty solid.  It downplays the self-conscious Machiavellians, but only by recasting them as childish fanatics.

If you don’t know much about the actual history of radical bleeding-heart regimes, I’ll admit that stories 4-6 sound overblown and unfair.  But I’ve devoted much of my life to studying this history.  All I can say is:  If your story isn’t ugly, it isn’t true.

P.S. Hugo Chavez is a really boring speaker, so if you’re curious about the general phenomenon I’m discussing, start with this little bleeding-heart speech by the murderous Che Guevara.

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The Fired Next Time: A “Shutdown” Proposal

The longest partial “government shutdown” in US history ended on January 25. To get Leviathan’s gears turning at full speed again, President Donald Trump said uncle on funding for his pet border wall project in return for a three-week “return to normalcy.”

More interesting than the (quite possibly temporary) end of the “shutdown” is the direction things were taking right before the wall funding came tumbling down.

Transportation Security Administration employees called in sick en masse, creating long delays at major airports. IRS employees called back (without pay) to process tax returns followed suit.

At the other end of the spectrum, self-organizing volunteers, as well as employees/contractors sent by tourism-reliant businesses, turned out to clean toilets and so forth at national parks. The parks were “closed,” but visitors showed up anyway and enjoyed their time with nature.

A few days before the temporary truce, Association of Flight Attendants president Sara Nelson asked AFL-CIO leaders to call a general strike: A walkout by workers (especially union workers) across all industries, all over the country, in support of getting federal employees back on the job and back on regular paychecks.

Had the matter dragged on for a few more weeks, or even a few more days, Nelson’s call might have fallen on more supportive ears. And if the curtain goes up on “Shutdown Theater Part II: This Time It’s Personal” at the end of the three-week timeout, there’s a distinct possibility of something resembling just such a general strike.

But I’ve got a better idea. Instead of taking off work in support of furloughed federal employees, why not seize the jobs those employees are doing and free the employees, and the customers, from the competing manipulations of Donald Trump, Charles Schumer, and Nancy Pelosi?

The air transport sector is the most obvious place to start.

Airline and airport operators should get together during this three-week ceasefire and put together a plan to provide airport security, airplane safety inspection, and air traffic control whether the government is on the job or not.

Such a plan would work like this: The instant the federal government “shut down,” airport/airline representatives would inform Washington that flights will continue, and that they will continue on time and without undue passenger delays for security screening, period.

If TSA shuts down security screening points for lack of personnel, the airports will either re-open those lines with their own screeners (perhaps hired from the ranks of unpaid TSA employees), or simply wave passengers through.

If the FAA inspectors aren’t available to inspect planes, the airlines will use their own mechanics.

If federally employed air traffic controllers aren’t willing to work without pay, the airlines will hire and pay them.

But either way the flights happen, unless armed troops are sent in to stop them. And if  the airlines/airports take over those jobs, no backsies. Once they go private, they stay private. Washington, you’re FIRED.

Time for a gut check to see if politicians really want to keep playing the “shutdown” game.

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On Freedom II

There is a sense that I agree with the statement, “Freedom is not free“. Everything we want has a cost that must be paid. Who is forced to pay for the things we want determines the amount of freedom we have. Under total freedom, our welfare, security, wants, needs, and desires must be paid for, in some fashion, by ourselves. Freedom for me means freedom for you, and so we can understand that the costs of freedom are all the costs associated with existence. Freedom begins to disappear the moment we plead for others to be forced to fund our lives. Yes, freedom is not free, but neither is freedom forcing others to fund your military or police squad. And that’s today’s two cents.

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America’s War Culture

For most of the opinion-making class in America today, war is the default position. Representatives of establishment newspapers and TV news operations are not likely to grill someone who favors U.S. military intervention somewhere — anywhere. He or she will have no burden of proof to sustain. But those who oppose a new war or call for an end to an existing one are sure to be treated like oddballs if not traitors. They’d better have an extraordinarily strong defense of their position because the burden of proof will be squarely on them; even a strong defense, however, won’t get the heat turned down.

Need I point out that a presumption in favor of war is toxic to a society that fancies itself free and humane? Continuing wars and readiness to intervene anywhere in the world costs money and, worse, lives. A war state cannot long coexist with strict limitations on government power and spending. Moreover, it impedes people without influence from prospering because military spending diverts resources from consumer investment and production to weapons and other things irrelevant to consumer welfare.

Let’s face it, empire is bloody expensive.

So why the presumption in favor of war? (The general population is split, but opinion seems driven by partisanship and therefore is subject to opportunistic shifts, Glenn Greenwald writes.) Part of the answer simply is Trump Derangement Syndrome. Trump has occasionally talked peace since his presidential campaign began, and therefore his opponents apparently feel they have to favor war. Whatever Trump wants, they want the opposite, even if it is something they once may have favored.

While he has pushed obscenely large increases in Pentagon spending — increases that dwarf Russia’s entire military budget — rattled his saber at Iran, and made aggressive moves in Russia’s direction (arms for Ukraine’s government, withdrawal from the INF treaty, sanctions, etc.), he has also made some welcome overtures toward retrenchment, most notably with North Korea, now Syria, and to a lesser extent Afghanistan. (What’s the point of cutting the U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan merely in half?)

Alas, any overture toward peace has prompted most of the pundit class and most politicians to unload on Trump. He has been accused of being a traitor or Russian agent just for talking about exiting a senseless war. His decision to get out of Syria — although many times he said would get out — was described as sudden and erratic, not to mention as a payoff to Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Russia scholar Stephen F. Cohen says Putin wants the small and uninvited U.S. force to stay in Syria as a partner in the battle against terrorism.)

Of course, we can’t be confident that Trump will follow through on Syria or other pro-peace initiatives — he can’t help equivocating — but we surely ought to be encouraging him to do so. The pundits and politicians, in contrast, apparently see their role in discouraging him by portraying him as disloyal, loopy, or both whenever he talks peace. The lethal attack on Americans in Syria the other day was immediately used to pressure Trump into changing his mind about withdrawing. It hasn’t occurred to the war class that the troops would not have been killed had they been removed.

When a news interviewer gets push-back from a guest who supports a Trump peace move, the interviewer typically switches gears: “But do you approve of how Trump is going about it?” No word on behalf of scaling back the war state is allowed go unchallenged. If a mainstream media representative can’t score a point against a proposal to get out of a war, he’ll go after the “process.” Overlooked is the fact that Barack Obama intervened in Syria in defiance of both Congress and the American public. When has that process been challenged by the intelligentsia?

Speaking of process, the media delight in going after Trump for not meekly deferring to allies and generals, apparently forgetting that the U.S. government is supposed to be run by elected civilians, with the military strictly subordinate. The pundits cheer whenever a war-mongering military officer or national security appointee publicly undercuts Trump’s declared intention to withdraw from or avoid a war.

The media also delight in impugning the sanity, character, or “loyalty” of the rare public figure who favors a Trump peace overture. Opponents of intervention are routinely smeared as sympathizers of whoever rules the country in question, as though it followed that if you don’t like a country’s ruler, you logically ought to favor obliterating his country. In this video, Glenn Greenwald reminds us that those who objected to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Libya were accused of being soft on Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi.

To see the presumption of war in action, watch this recent exchange (beginning at 1:12) between CNN’s Jake Tapper and Sen. Rand Paul, who has applauded Trump’s announcement about Syria.

Tapper says: “I do want to ask you one philosophical point and I don’t want you to think I’m being rude here, but I’m just wondering, in the last 20 years is there any act of U.S. intervention with military force abroad that you support?” The implication here is that unless Paul has supported at least one war, his support for an end to U.S. intervention in Syria is suspect.

I wish Paul had turned the question around and said, “Jake, let me ask you this: is there any U.S. war in the last 20 years that you opposed?”

Instead, Paul told Tapper he supported the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, though he was not in Congress at the time. That’s too bad of course, but to his credit, Paul reminded Tapper that subsequent interventions have no authority under the resolution passed by Congress with respect to Afghanistan. He also added that he opposed nation-building in Afghanistan: “I would have declared victory and come home long ago.” He also schooled Tapper on the fact that as long as the U.S. military is present in Muslim hands, terrorism will be a risk.

Finally, Paul pointed out that withdrawal from Syria would not reduce the U.S. government’s ability to intervene one iota because it has military forces ready to pounce everywhere.

True, but that’s part of the problem.

Advocates of peace and liberty have no nobler mission than to overturn the presumption in favor of war.

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